Jan had a temporary crown put in on Monday and she wanted a soft creamy soup for dinner. In times past this would mean some variation of vichyssoise, potato and leek soup. I am always looking for something new, so I started thinking about an African sweet potato and peanut soup/stew.
Maafe, Mafé or Groundnut Chop—the difference between these seems to be linguistic rather than culinary—are made in many Western and Central African countries. In Northern Nigeria it is K’aurin gyad’a (Hausa). I also found wide variations of the basic recipe for Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Togo.
At its simplest, it is a sauce made with peanuts and tomatoes with onions and sweet potatoes being a frequent additions. After that, the variations for this soup/stew are near endless. Traditionally, this dish is probably served “chunky,” but many of the online recipes blend it into a smooth creamy soup. This is what I am doing for Jan.
What you add to this soup beyond the basics seems to be limited only by your imagination. You do not like/have beef? Use chicken, lamb or fish. If you want it vegetarian, leave out the meat entirely.
You don’t have any sweet potatoes? Any other starchy tuber or grain will do. One site suggested that there should be at least two added vegetables, but gave a laundry list of possible options. It is definitely a “What is in season?” recipe.
As this is a dish that is made in so many countries, even the seasonings vary widely. Black pepper, garlic and ginger are frequent additions, but are not crucial. Do you like savory, warming spices? Allspice, bay leaf, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, thyme, and turmeric may all be added. Do you like it hot? Then add chilies, fresh or dried.
A final cultural variation was whether or not it was a meal in itself, a sauce to spoon over rice or couscous, or simply a main dish. One site listed 6 toppings and 117 possible side dishes to go with a Nigerian meal of groundnut chop, with the suggestion that 16 sides was the traditional presentation. This is definitely a traditional dish that you can make your own—be creative!
Karl’s Maafe, Mafé or Groundnut Chop (West African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup)
1 Tbs. butter (peanut oil for Vegan)
1 cup onion, diced
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 carrot, peeled and grated (about ½ cup)
1 jalapeño, diced, separate uses
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh ginger root, grated
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1 tsp. allspice, ground
1 tsp. black pepper, ground
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped (about 1 cup)
1½ lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
29 oz. low sodium chicken (use vegetable broth or water for Vegan)
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup red bell pepper
1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro, separate uses
¼ cup chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and sauté the onions and salt, over medium high heat, until the onions are starting to pick up some color.
2. Add the grated carrots and continue sautéing for another five minutes, until they are well softened.
3. Add the garlic, half of the jalapeño, ginger and spices to the pot. Cook for one minute stirring, until fragrant.
4. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes, stirring and scrapping the bottom of the pot, until the tomatoes are well darkened.
5. Add the sweet potatoes and liquid to the pot and bring it to a boil.
6. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.
7. Transfer the soup to a standing blender.
Tip: You may need to do this in batches.
8. Add the peanut butter, the rest of the jalapeño, most of the red bell pepper, and most of the cilantro to the soup in the blender. Process until very smooth.
Tip: Reserve some of the bell pepper and cilantro as garnish.
Note: I did not add the red bell pepper to my soup and—while it was very tasty—it came out an unfortunate color. Jan suggested that the red bell pepper would darken to soup some and improve the color. It would also add some fresh vegetal flavor.
9. Return the soup to the pot and bring the pot to full heat, about 5 minutes over medium low heat.
10. Serve garnished with a garnish of bell peppers, cilantro and peanuts, if you wish.